After the Indiana Pacers won Game 7 of their first round series against the Atlanta Hawks, they looked like they were in good shape going into their next series against the Washington Wizards. The Pacers easily beat the Wizards 2-1 in their regular season series, and Roy Hibbert woke up from a deep six game slumber to score 13 points, grab 7 rebounds and block 5 shots in the team’s crucial Game 7 victory. The Pacers also had home court advantage over the Wizards, and they ended the regular season with the best home record in the entire league.
However, the overachieving Washington Wizards had other plans in mind.
A Kind of Magic
This group of Wizards keep on finding ways to win on the road during this post season. In the previous 20 years, the Wizards were just 4-23 while playing on the road in the playoffs, but after their Game 1 upset of the Pacers, Washington improved to 4-0 on the road this postseason.
The Wizards had just advanced to the second round of the playoffs for the first time since 2005. Then they won a second round series game for the first time since 1982. They also snapped a 12-game losing streak to the Pacers in Indiana by winning for the first time since April 18, 2007.
In Game 1, Trevor Ariza was unreal. He went 7-7 from the field, including 6-6 from three-point distance. Bradley Beal scored 14 of his 25 points in the fourth quarter, while Nene finished with 15 points and 6 rebounds.
The Wizards’ starters amassed a total of 87 points in Game 1. The Pacers first unit just managed a total of 63 points and shot only 35.4% from the field.
It was like watching magic to see the Wizards hold the Pacers under their spell for one full game. The Wizards not only took the home court advantage, they stripped the Pacers of their new found confidence. Even worse, Roy HIbbert reverted to the Hibbert of Games 1-6 vs the Hawks.
The Missing Link
Unbelievably, Roy Hibbert had zero points and zero rebounds in the Pacers’ Game 1 loss to the Wizards. He took only two shots in 18 minutes of playing time. The only meaningful stats in Hibbert’s numbers were 1 asisst and 2 blocked shots.
“He’s got to be part of the fight. He’s got to be part of this thing for us to go anywhere.”
West is right. If Hibbert is a non-factor, the Pacers aren’t going anywhere. Look at Roy’s numbers in the postseason:
During the regular season, Roy Hibbert averaged 10.8 points and 6.6 rebounds per game. Hibbert was an All-Star in the regular season and was dubbed as the anchor of the Pacers’ defense. In the playoffs, he’s been a different anchor; the one that prevents a ship from going anywhere.
“We’re at a point where we’re really going to need Roy. And we really need him now.”
The Indiana Pacers had given up home court advantage in the very first game of the series. Losing Game 2 would’ve virtually ended their season. That’s why Paul George emphasized urgency.
“It’s a mindset,” Paul George added. “He’s got to clear his mind, demand the ball in the paint and get the ball where he wants it.”
Two days later, Hibbert responded to his teammates’ challenge.
From Agent Zero to MVP
When Roy Hibbert decided that he needed to be better, he became better and the Pacers played better as a team. Via IndyStar.com:
“What we saw in the Pacers’ 86-82 Game 2 victory over the Washington Wizards was one of the most remarkable overnight transformations in sports history. From no-show to superstar. From national punching bag to Floyd Mayweather. From cipher to hero. In 48 hours.”
Here is Hibbert’s Game 2 stat line:
In Game 2, Hibbert played like the All-Star that everybody knows. He didn’t just break out of a slump, he broke a lot of barriers. Listen to this:
Hibbert’s stats proved that he was aggressively looking for his shot in Game 2. And with an aggressive Roy Hibbert, the Indiana Pacers always win.
The Pacers’ Barometer
In the regular season, the Pacers led the NBA in points allowed per 100 possessions by giving up just 96.7 points per game. In their four playoff losses so far, Indiana has given up an average of 102 points per game. It’s interesting to note that when Roy Hibbert struggles, so does Indiana’s defense. And when that defense struggles, they lose.
Hibbert has particularly played poorly in the four losses the Pacers have endured thus far in this postseason. Hibbert has clearly been the barometer for the Pacers.
Making The Adjustment
Coach Frank Vogel vowed to keep Hibbert involved in the offense, via 1070theFan.com:
“I’ve got to get him some looks to help get him going some. He needs to get a little more active on the offensive glass and his teammates have to be able to see him when he’s ducking in, which we’re missing at times, and I’ve got to call his number sometimes, which I called it zero times.”
The Pacers made the right adjustment in Game 2. Hibbert was just averaging 2.4 points on 3.3 post-up plays per game in their first eight contests. In Game 2, Hibbert scored 18 points on 9 post-up plays. He ended up shooting 8-9 from the field.
With Hibbert on the firing end, the Pacers were +16 points while he was on the court. The Pacers were (-28) with him on the court during the first eight games. The Pacers’ offensive efficiency rating was just 91.5 in their first 8 games of the postseason, compared to 112.4 in Game 2. With a balanced inside and outside game, the Indiana Pacers shot 50% in Game 2. They were only shooting 41.2% during the first eight games.
Roy Hibbert paid tribute to the Pacers’ main man Paul George, via USAToday.com:
“‘I seriously believe the biggest person that helped me out was Paul (George),’ Hibbert said. ‘(Tuesday) after practice he invited me out on his boat and we fished for about two hours and just relaxed and didn’t talk about basketball. We just talked about life and tried to catch some bass. I really appreciated him reaching out to me. He didn’t have to do that.’”
Roy Hibbert is wrong. Paul George is the leader of this young Pacers’ squad. It is his responsibility as a leader to keep the team together during trials and tribulations. So in the situation where Hibbert was in deep trouble, George was up to the challenge of stabilizing him off the court. George knew if he could do that, it would stabilize the whole team. Paul George knows that he is the captain of the Indiana ship, but he also acknowledges the fact that Hibbert is the anchor of the defense.
Coach Vogel has made the right adjustments and Roy Hibbert has responded. The entire Indiana Pacers team looked like contenders once again in Game 2, but it was more than just breaking out of a slump. Paul George took Roy Hibbert fishing on his boat. Hibbert might have caught some fishes, but he also found answers. And Game 2 was that, finding answers. Now the Pacers can pass that road and turn the corner.